Sep 14, 2021 - Politics

Johnston school district warns of "more sophisticated" hacking attempts

A computer mouse in a trap.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Johnston's school district is still the target of hacking attempts four years after an international hacker group known as The Dark Overlord leaked student data and texted death threats to parents, school spokesperson Laura Sprague told Axios.

What's happening: Johnston recently avoided another security breach, but attack attempts "are getting more sophisticated by the day," Sprague said.

  • She said hackers have imitated emails of multiple school executives, including herself, in attempts to con people out of money. Some even include school logos and headers, making them harder to distinguish as fake.

Why it matters: Ransomware cyberattacks are on the rise across the U.S., threatening our food supplies, health care and national security.

  • Schools can expect to face increasing threats, as the rush to move learning online left many security systems vulnerable to attacks, Politico reports.

Flashback: In October of 2017, Johnston Public Schools canceled and delayed classes for several days after the hacking group posted school directory files online.

  • The Dark Overlord failed to obtain a ransom from the district, but the attack cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
  • The district's cybersecurity insurance alone has more than doubled since the attack, to just over $24K this year.

Of note: The Dark Overlord hasn't been credited with recent metro hacks.

Separately, nearby Des Moines Area Community College halted online instruction for about two weeks following a hack in June.

  • The school didn't pay ransom, and president Rob Denson told Axios the breach was limited to old personnel files of fewer than 25 people.
  • Those individuals have been contacted, Denson said.

The bottom line: We're being bullied and the outlook suggests it's only going to get worse.


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